Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a prevalent medical issue affecting 18% of all men in the US. It's more common in older men (up to 52%), but anyone is susceptible. Unfortunately, ED can become a significant stressor for couples. And if they don't talk about it, the problem often spills beyond the bedroom.
Of course, you may not know how to discuss your feelings with your partner. Embarrassment, awkwardness, guilt, and shame might prevent you from feeling safe to be vulnerable. Here are some tips for both men and their partners.
When it comes to ED, both people often turn inward in assuming responsibility for the problem.
For example, the man might believe something is fundamentally "wrong" with him because of his condition. As a result, he often feels afraid of rejection or his partner straying from the relationship.
Similarly, his partner may worry they aren't attractive, loving, or "good" enough in the bedroom. In some cases, they might feel convinced he's having an affair.
It's important to remember that ED is a physical health issue, typically related to how blood flows to the penis. Likewise, people with diabetes, neurological problems, or hormonal abnormalities tend to be at an increased risk. In other words, ED often has very little to do with the actual relationship.
If ED is starting to feel like the proverbial elephant in the room, it's probably time to initiate the first conversation. If you don't, you risk feeling resentful or disconnected from each other. In addition, couples often find it more challenging to address and treat problems after they've progressed.
Remember that it's normal to feel somewhat intimidated to talk about this issue safely. This nervousness applies regardless of who decides to talk about it first.
Ideally, it would help if you broached the topic during a neutral time. For example, don't bring it up just before, during, or after sex. Likewise, avoid the discussion during an argument or particularly stressful moment. Instead, aim to talk when you both feel relaxed or even "neutral."
As an opening line, you can consider saying something like, "I love you so much. And because I love you and value our relationship, I want to talk about something that's been on my mind."
While some people might be receptive and relieved to talk about ED, others will feel attacked no matter how gently you address the issue. This defensiveness is often an automatic response to guilt and shame.
Try not to personalize the reaction. Instead, aim to remain calm and collected. You might even try saying, "I can tell now isn't a good time. I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings in any way. I love you. Is there another time we can revisit this?"
Patience is crucial. It may take some time for your partner to feel comfortable discussing their feelings. If they still seem apprehensive, it might be worth asking if they're willing to talk about it in couples therapy.
You can discuss this option by saying, "I really care about you and us, and I know this is hard to talk about. Would you be open to trying couples therapy with me? I think having a third-party professional could really help us feel more comfortable talking to one another."
ED is treatable and often involves making proactive lifestyle changes or taking medication. First, it's important to talk to your primary care physician or a qualified healthcare provider to discuss the best options.
Despite which treatment you choose, you should both strive to look at ED as a "we-issue" rather than a "you-issue" or "me-issue." When you choose this mentality, you take a united stance against ED. You work together to find a treatment plan that satisfies you both.
Because blame may still persist, it's important to offer emotional comfort to each other consistently. Your partner needs to know that they are loved and not broken. And you may need those reminders yourself.
ED doesn't have to doom your sex life or your relationship. But working through ED is much more effective when both partners are on board and dedicated to each other.